Kim: Open the Ivied Gates

by Yoo Jung Kim | 11/11/12 11:00pm

By now, the most fervent potential Dartmouth '17s have sent in their early decision applications. Should recent trends continue, the College, as well as other Ivy League institutions, should expect to see yet another year of the most competitive applicant pool in its history.

As current students know, this admissions hype surrounding what is essentially a mediocre athletic league stems from the Ivies' exclusivity. What our sports league lacks in athleticism, it makes up for in social capital, which can be spun into actual capital. Those with Ivy League degrees comprise a glaringly disproportionate number of powerful figures compared to the number of graduates generated by the other 500-plus universities in America. For instance, 11 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have at least one Ivy League degree. Furthermore, Ivy League educations provide a leg up in any field and create powerful connections. The New York Times recently traced the histories of two U.S. senatorial opponents, Dartmouth's own Kirsten Gillibrand '88 and Wendy Long '82, back to their alma mater. The article points out that both candidates remained close to the College and "tapped into the school's powerful alumni network to help their campaigns." In a system that graduates about 14,000 students per year among 1,750,000 graduates per year in America, we really are the (less than) 1 percent.

This type of prestige and exclusivity is built upon heaps and heaps of rejected applications. The lower the rate of admission, the greater the perceived prestige of attending these colleges. The greater the prestige, the more competitive candidates apply, lowering the admissions rate even further. The admitted students, who were probably impressive to begin with, go off to do even more impressive things with their lives, which brings greater glory to their alma mater. Repeat this process ad nauseam, and what you get is a growing number of applicants competing for a limited and unchanging number of seats.

Even as our acceptance rate dipped below 10 percent this past year, the Admissions Office announced two new initiatives for increasing international and domestic recruitment ("Admissions starts new initiatives," Oct. 26). While many competitive schools purport that their public recruitment efforts are meant to make admissions open for everyone, the truth is that it is within the institutions' best interest to recruit the best candidates (a relatively small number) and to reject as many students as possible (the majority of applications).

Perhaps the Ivy League should consider admitting more students. The major problems of our time are multifaceted, and solving them is going to take critical thinking and planning, which Dartmouth claims to impart to its students. If this is so, the world would be better served if Dartmouth and its Ivy League peers planned for a very gradual increase in the number of students in their entering classes over a period of time with careful consideration given to a correlating increase in quality, so that more entering students would be able to benefit from an Ivy League education and resources.

However, this suggestion is complicated by the fact that more students often mean fewer resources per student. The proposal is also complicated by questionable ranking systems, many of which reward schools based on their selectivity. With that in mind, elite schools that decide to increase their entering class sizes are sure to be penalized and must suffer the consequences of seeing their precious rankings drop.

So we're left with a quandary, and we can only one of a few things. For one, we can continue our aggressive efforts to advertise ourselves, thereby raising the number of thwarted prospective Dartmouth students and building our prestige upon their rejections. On the other hand, we can increase class sizes to keep up with the increasing number of applicants, which has the risk of replacing quality with quantity.

My proposal is neither. We should instead pour the resources that would otherwise have gone toward the recruiting effort to existing students. This rat race of deflating admission statistics among the most prestigious institutions has gone on long enough. The utility and the value of an institution should not be based on how many applicants it rejects, but rather on the actions of the men and women who pass through its gates.